My shoot with Romesh Ranganathan was to support an extract from his book published in the Guardian Weekend Magazine. Having read a little snippet of the book it focused on how Romesh had been criticised for a lot of his comedy by pulling out the race card. He explains his reason for this, mainly that there are a lot of racists out there, and tells of several of episodes where he has experienced blatant racism. So, we wanted to do a shoot with Romesh, not just pulling out comedy poses, but we wanted to bring in cultural references and the address the issue that Romesh feels people are trying to sensor his comedy as it may be uncomfortable listening.
The issue of censorship was the first one we tried to cover. Tape over the mouth and then some over the rest of his face should be a good illustration of this. I had purchased 3 different types. The last thing I wanted to do was to leave Romesh with a ‘waxed’ strip of beard, above and below the lips. Not only would this maybe look a little odd, but Romesh was also on the way to watch another comedian at the Hammersmith Apollo, and we though it would be rude if he stole the show with a new beard style. So, I volunteered. (If you wouldn’t do it to yourself then don’t do it to others.). I placed the gaffe tape over my beard and mouth, felt the sweat drip as I imagined the pain that was to come, and ripped off the tape. Phew!!! It only served as a beard trim, pulling out 3 hairs only. It was safe, Romesh had witnessed the procedure and felt at ease with the idea.
The shoot commenced, and as usual I try to strike up a conversation with my subject to make them feel at ease and to make the shoot a little more amicable. However, after a few minutes, a few questions asked, I was struck by how rude Romesh was not to answer any of my questions. He looks at me, wide desperately questioning eyes…. then it struck me that it is difficult to answer when your mouth has been gaffa’d up.
When the tape was removed and we could commence (beard still in place), Romesh was chilled and fun to deal with. Apart from some straight shots I also wanted to include a 6×9 meter Union Jack flag, (made by my wife Gemma btw) and try to see if we could create a Union Jack turban that Romesh could wear. The latter would allow us to show the cultural integration of his Hindu heritage with his British upbringing. The iconic Union Jack draped around Romesh would also give him an iconic status as a British comedian and therefor contradict any racist comments he has previously received about him not being British.
As we put the large flag away and were to focus on the turban, I handed Romesh the 3 meter long union jack material. He held it for a few seconds before I realised that something wasn’t right. I then told him just to tie the turban on and we’d see if it worked. He looked at me questioning and said “I don’t know how to tie a turban…”. I realised that I had maybe been presumptuous. I had seen him wearing a turban for a TV show once, but it was of course someone else whom had tied it for him. I took out youtube, thinking I was smart. We followed the instructions, but either the problem was that the polyester material doesn’t fold as well as good quality cotton, or it is actually quite hard to tie a good turban. I felt like I was a part of some sit-com and I was the fool, so I soon gave up and called it a day.
Shot for The Guardian Weekend Magazine